Watch brands roll out highlights at Basel, even as fair looks to sync with SIHH to boost attendance next year.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel


At the start of the year, watch journalists were frequently asking among themselves: “Will you be going to Baselworld?” The world’s biggest watch and jewellery fair has been shrinking steadily for a few years now, which means that it has been making less financial sense for exhibitors, journalists and general visitors to make the annual trek to Switzerland. The fair suffered its largest blow last year, when the Swatch Group announced that all its 18 brands – including Omega, Breguet and Blancpain – would be exiting the event.

Though the new management team has introduced several changes, including digital initiatives such as an app with augmented-reality features, a bigger press area, and a catwalk for daily fashion shows, there’s still a large question mark looming over the fu-ture of the 102-year-old fair. Breitling, for instance, recently confi rmed that it would not be back next year. Vitally, however, key Baselworld brands Rolex and Patek Philippe have publicly pledged their support for the fair.

One solution that the organisers are looking at is to synchronise Baselworld with the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), which currently takes place in January. Next year, Baselworld will occur in early May, after the SIHH fair at the end of April. This, in theory, might help to boost attendance, by requiring only one trip to Switzerland to cover the world’s two largest fine-watch fairs. Will this strategy improve Basel’s health? Time will tell. Meanwhile, it’s still the best venue to keep tabs on watch-world happenings. Here’s a round-up of our favourite releases this year.



Staying true to its ethos of slow and steady development, Baselworld stalwart Rolex has made subtle updates to some of its mainstay models. This year, these include the Sea-Dweller, GMT-Master II “Batman” (a nickname that refers to the model’s black and blue bezel) and Yacht-Master.

As the latest example in a steel-and-gold revival that we have seen many brands experience in recent years, the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller gets the two-tone treatment. The new model comes in yellow Rolesor, which in Rolex-speak means a combination of components made of steel and yellow gold. While it looks fancier than its most recent, steel-only predecessor on the outside, the Sea-Dweller retains its hardy characteristics, such as a 1,220m depth rating. Similarly, it’s also powered by the brand’s energy-efficient calibre 3235.

Rolex’s fondness for logical progression is also evident in the latest version of the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II with a black and blue ceramic bezel insert. This 40mm steel timepiece is now fitted with the five-link Jubilee bracelet instead of the three-link Oyster bracelet, following a similar change to the steel “Pepsi” – with red-and-blue bezel – GMT-Master II last year.

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Even as many brands cut back on high-complication pieces in favour of simpler, lower-priced pieces that are easier to sell, tourbillon watches continue to proliferate. Chopard presented its first flying tourbillon watch, the LUC Flying T Twin. It has a relatively slim (7.2mm in thickness) case, partly thanks to the fact that a flying tourbillon – by definition – has no upper bridge.

If you find that honeycomb hand-guilloche detail at the centre of the dial familiar, that’s because it was introduced in the LUC XPS 1860 Officer in 2017. The motif represents a  beehive,  and  pays  tribute  to  the first logo adopted by Louis-Ulysse Chopard, who established Chopard in 1860. The 40mm case is made from Fairmined rose gold, which refers to ethically certified gold that has been responsibly sourced. The twin mainspring barrels in the movement give this watch its 65-hour power reserve, as well as part of its name.

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If its releases in the past few years have been any indication, it’s almost become a given that Bulgari will break some kind of thinness record at Baselworld. For 2019, that honour goes to the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic, which is now the world’s thinnest mechanical chronograph watch with a thickness of just 6.9mm. And, as if that wasn’t impressive enough, Bulgari decided to add a dual-time function to the mix as well.

Powered by BVL 318, a new in-house movement just 3.3mm thick, the octagonal-cased novelty is housed in a 42mm sandblasted titanium case with a matching bracelet. The matte-grey finish has an edgy industrial feel that complements the angular lines of the timepiece.
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High-horology brand Ferdinand Berthoud’s octagonal-shaped timepieces are typically inspired by the marine chronometers designed by the eponymous 18th-century watchmaker. That said, the brand’s latest timepieces also take inspiration from other instruments essential to sea navigation in the 18th century.

Invented in 1752, the reflecting circle was used to determine a ship’s position by measuring the heights of celestial bodies, and the distances between them and the moon. The Chronometre FB1L pays tribute to this instrument with a moonphase display like no other: Instead of just a visually depicted moonphase, this watch has a numerical display that counts up to the 14 days since the last new moon, before counting down the next 14 days to the next new moon. Two versions of this 44mm lunar tourbillon watch are available – one in white gold and black ceramic, and the other in ceramised titanium and white gold.



Two things to know about Chanel’s updated J12.
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Even though it has been redesigned to mark its 20th anniversary, the new J12’s aesthetic changes are minimal. These include a bigger dial opening, a bezel with more notches and a slimmed-down crown.
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In January, Chanel bought a 20 per cent stake in Genevabased movement maker Kenissi. The new J12 models are driven by Kenissi’s Calibre 12.1 – this COSC-certified movement offers almost double the power reserve of the J12’s previous Eta 2892 movement.
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Patek Philippe had one of the most solid showings at the fair, revealing both surprising new pieces as well as technically interesting updates to existing pieces. Falling in the former category is the Ref. 5212A-001 Calatrava Weekly Calendar, which brings the weekly calendar to the brand’s extensive line-up of calendar watches for the first time.

The week numbers are displayed in a ring around the dial, and such a calendar is designed to come in handy for business people who refer to the week of the year for work timelines. That said, what perhaps stands out most in this 40mm steel automatic watch is the font used for the days and months on the dial. It’s apparently based on the handwriting of one of Patek’s own designers – an uncharacteristic but charmingly quirky touch for the brand.

One of its most technically important launches for the year, on the other hand, is the Ref. 5520P-001 Alarm Travel Time in platinum, which has a new self-winding movement with four patents. This high-complication extension of Patek’s pilot’s model basically thumbs its nose at the many early detractors of the Ref. 5524G pilot’s watch that was launched in 2015, and affirms that this model is here to stay. The Ref. 5520P combines a dual-time feature with a 24-hour alarm that is represented digitally, and chimes via a minute repeater-style hammer and gong – so much better than being rudely awoken by the harsh digital tones of a mobile phone.

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You might be familiar with the jumping-hour feature but, most of the time, the hour numerals are found on flat discs, rather than on a three-dimensional sphere. Hautlence’s HL Sphere makes it hard to look away from the watch as the end of each hour nears. As the retrograde minute hand on the right instantaneously jumps back to zero at the top, the sphere spins to display the next hour.

This makes for much more dynamic viewing, certainly, than watching two hands slowly creeping. Housed within a rectangular – the brand’s signature shape – white gold case measuring 39mm by 46mm by 12mm, the hand-wound movement is fully developed, designed and produced by Hautlence.
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Say what you will about smaller or classic styles trending; Hublot stays on its course of delivering in your-face, statement timepieces – and that’s fine by us. A big focus for the brand this year is its long-time collaboration with Ferrari, with novelties including new models co-conceived with the Ferrari Design Centre, marking the 90th anniversary of the car marque’s racing division, Scuderia Ferrari.

Hublot’s artistic partnerships continue to yield no less striking results. The Big Bang Sang Bleu II features a highly geometric design inspired by the creations of tattoo artist Maxime Plescia-Buchi. It’s not the easiest thing to read the time off  this 45mm titanium timepiece – but, with a watch like this, the time isn’t even the point.
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MB&F is best known for creating the ultimate horological boys’ toys,  inspired by the spaceships and cars that founder Max Busser loved in his childhood. But his latest launch pays tribute to “the women in my family”. Elegance and dynamism were the keywords in the creation of the Legacy Machine FlyingT, which has a distinctive high sapphire crystal set in a white gold case.

The clear dome provides a stellar view of the three-dimensional movement within, crowned by a flying tourbillon topped with a single large diamond. A charming touch is the small dial of black or white lacquer, placed semi-upright at seven o’clock, so only the wearer can see the time. Dial options include shiny black lacquer or diamond versions.
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Breitling has made it clear that it will not be participating in Baselworld next year, and that’s definitely a pity for the fair, with the refreshed offerings from the brand proving pretty impressive, since CEO Georges Kern took the helm with gusto in 2017.

Aside from having presentations at its booth – enlarged to include its own restaurant setup this year, thanks to the space left by the Swatch Group brands – Breitling also held its own offsite Summit event. Kern used the opportunity to share more about the brand’s novelties, which tick all the boxes: For fans of sporty, military-inspired timepieces, there’s the Aviator 8 Curtiss P-40 Warhawk collection, featuring some of the coolest-looking khaki dials we’ve seen recently. Looking for something dressier? That would be the Premier collaborative chronograph with British motorcycle maker Norton.

But our favourite, without a doubt, is pure, classic Breitling: The Navitimer Ref. 806 1959 Re-edition is a faithful remake of a Navitimer from 1959. The 40.9mm timepiece features almost all the same details as that early pilot’s chronograph with slide rule bezel, with one exception: It is now powered by the in-house Calibre B09, instead of a third-party movement.
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Following the relaunch of its classic Autavia chronograph in 2017, Tag Heuer has fully expanded the model into a brand-new, three-hand family comprising seven new references. Measuring 42mm in diameter, and housed in either steel or bronze cases, the new Autavia Isograph pieces feature hand-sprayed dials with gradated finishes that highlight their vintage inspiration. And in case you’re wondering what on earth the term “Isograph” refers to, it’s the brand’s fancy term for its cutting-edge carbon composite hairspring – first used in the Carrera Heuer O2T Tourbillon Nanograph introduced earlier this year – that’s found in the Calibre 5 chronometer movements powering these new watches.
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Tudor tends to receive flak from detractors who say it’s a Black Bay-focused, one-trick pony. And yet, when it breaks out of the mould with models like last year’s 1926 dress timepieces, or this year’s decidedly un-Black Bay-ish, vintage prototype-inspired Black Bay P01, it also tends to attract negative attention.

We appreciate that at the very least, this 42mm steel watch is interesting: The Black Bay P01 takes its cues from a prototype that was developed in the 1960s and proposed to the US Navy, but was never made – as Tudor’s regular diver watch was later adopted by the US Navy instead. What distinguishes the P01 is a winding crown at four o’clock, as well as its hinged end-link system at 12 o’clock – this catch originally allowed for the bezel to be removed and disassembled for easy maintenance. In this modern update, the clasp helps to lock the bidirectional rotating bezel in place.

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On its own, the UR-T8 by Urwerk is already something to behold, with its reversible case that has a length of 60.23mm and a width of 48.25mm. Now, the independent brand creates even more impressive variants of this formidable timepiece by working with two young artisans.

One of the two is Italian knife-maker Emmanuel Esposito, who used black-lip mother of pearl to create refined mosaic inlays on a titanium UR-T8, as well as on a matching steel foldable blade. These unique creations are known as the UR-T8 Colibri and the T8 Colibri art knife, respectively, and they are sold together. The price, unsurprisingly, is available upon request.



Zenith celebrates the past and the future with two very different novelties.
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A trio of covetable re-editions marks the 50th anniversary of Zenith’s high-speed, 5Hz El Primero chronograph movement. Done in the three golds – rose, yellow and white – the three 38mm watches are relatively faithful reissues of the original A386 in which the El Primero was introduced.


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If you thought the El Primero movement was fast, the Defy Inventor is even more dazzling to the eye. Visible beneath the skeletonised dial, Zenith’s next-generation regulator – comprising a large silicon frame that serves as the balance wheel, hairspring and lever – vibrates at a speedy 18Hz.